Transitioning to life in a nursing home is never easy, but the sentimental treasures some residents bring with them make their new space feel a little more like home.
Photos by Marlena Sloss | Story by Olivia Ingle
Virlee (Bettag) Gunselman remembers her late husband, Charles Gunselman, as “a good guy.”
A neighbor friend introduced the two — Virlee was born and raised in Jasper, and Charles in Huntingburg — and they were married July 5, 1952, at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jasper.
The couple had one son, Steven, and lived in the Bretzville area.
Charles worked at Central Concrete, and Virlee eventually retired from Farbest Foods.
Charles died unexpectedly at age 48 from a heart attack on Sept. 1, 1978.
Still, not a day goes by when 87-year-old Virlee, who lives at Scenic Hills at the Monastery in Ferdinand, doesn’t think about her late husband.
Things in her room remind her of him, including some dolls she had made after his death.
The dolls’ dresses are made from silk ribbons from the flowers at Charles’ funeral.
“It gets me when I see them,” Virlee says, adding that a Sister in Ferdinand made them.
Virlee’s favorite one is a dark-haired doll with a dress made from pink and blue silk ribbons. A pink flower sits on pink lace at the doll’s waist.
Virlee has tried to make her room at Scenic Hills feel as much like home as possible.
She has a China cabinet and a grandfather clock, in addition to a clock she received for 20 years of service to Farbest. The China cabinet is filled with the dolls and other what-knots she couldn’t part with.
“I have to make it my home,” Virlee says.
Ruth in Red
Leon Lueken cherishes the memories. The memories with his late wife, Ruth (Mills). The memories with his four kids and 16 grandkids.
Many of those memories are in picture form, scattered about his room at The Waters in Huntingburg. The photographs serve as a reminder of a life he’s loved.
“There’s family pictures to remind you [that] you had more good times than bad times,” the 80-year-old Huntingburg man says.
His favorite is an 8x10 photograph of Ruth that sits in a frame on a shelf in the corner of the room. In the photo, Ruth is wrapped in a red boa. It was taken at a beauty shop in Huntingburg when Ruth was about 45 years old, Leon guesses.
Red was Ruth’s favorite color, which is one reason Leon loves the photo so much.
Leon has been at The Waters since April 2010. Ruth was already there, as she had moved in the summer before. The couple shared a home for 50 years just down the street from The Waters.
Leon and Ruth knew each other from attending Holland High School, but they didn’t start dating until Leon was serving in the Army in Aberdeen, Maryland. He was drafted in 1962.
Ruth and her mother ran into Leon’s mother at the grocery store in Holland, and Ruth asked for Leon’s address. Leon remembers her first letter being eight pages long.
“I was shocked to get a letter from her,” he recalls.
They wrote letters and saw each other on Leon’s leaves, and waited until he was out of the Army to get married.
They were married on May 29, 1965, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Huntingburg, the same church where Leon’s parents were married.
One of Leon’s fondest memories with his wife was when they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2015. Leon says his family is somewhat unique in that his grandparents, his parents and he and Ruth all celebrated their 50th anniversaries. Leon and Ruth have four sons: one who died as an infant, Leon Jr. of Texas, Mark of Phoenix and Chad of Jasper.
Ruth was diagnosed with stomach cancer while at The Waters in February 2018, and she died later that month. It’s still hard for Leon to fathom life without his love, but he’s getting by.
He adds that he still feels pretty good. “I got good brains and look at the Daily Herald every day and do crosswords,” he says.
If he could say one thing to Ruth, he would tell her, “Thanks for the years and our sons.”
Slush the Wolf
Shawna Brinkley knows Slush needs a wash. But that would call for her parting with the stuffed animal that she’s had since she was 3 years old. It would be too much time without him, as he’s become a constant comfort to her.
“It doesn’t look like it anymore, but he used to be a wolf, once upon a time,” says Shawna, 28.
Slush is likely Shawna’s most prized possession inside her room at The Waters of Huntingburg, where she’s lived for nearly nine years. Band posters, dream catchers, artwork, stuffed animals and more adorn her room, making it appear as if it belongs to a teenager. And in a way, it does. Shawna was 19 when she first came to The Waters.
It was about a year after she was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder caused by inflammation in the spinal cord.
Shawna, a 2010 Tecumseh High School graduate who grew up at Yellowbanks, recalls waking up with a backache one day in September 2010, and that backache gradually worsened. Four hours after waking up, she decided she needed to go to the emergency room.
“I got out of the vehicle at the hospital, fell and haven’t walked since,” Shawna says. “It was scary.”
She was initially paralyzed from the neck down. She’s improved a bit since, and is now paralyzed from the waist down and will likely be so the rest of her life.
She’s the youngest resident at The Waters, and says that, as such, she gets spoiled at times. “Other times, it gets quite boring,” she says.
She considers herself “pretty much” independent, although she does need help getting up, dressing herself and getting something to eat.
Her mom, Cheri Brinkley, and her grandmother and 12-year-old cousin visit her often, but her friends have gradually stopped coming around.
“A lot of people my age don’t know how to act or approach me or how to act around me,” she says. “I’m still the same old Shawna, just in a wheelchair.”
She spends her time drawing in her sketchbook, listening to music, reading and watching movies.
After her mother gave her Slush as a 3-year-old, she’s been fascinated by wolves. She has another wolf stuffed animal named Embry.
But, he’s not Slush, who makes the nights a little bit easier for Shawna.
“He gives me comfort,” she says. “Especially after I did get sick, he went everywhere with me.”
Marian (Feltner) Lindauer recalls when she met her late husband, Sylvester. She and her friend, Pat Coyle, were driving around Tell City, their hometown, and pulled into the Dog n Suds and parked between two cars. They both saw two young men in one of the cars, and Marian pointed to one and said, “I want him.” Pat pointed to the other and said, “I want him.”
The rest is history. Both couples were eventually married. Pat to Delbert Vaal, and Marian to Sylvester.
“He was a farm boy and I was a city girl,” 78-year-old Marian recalls from her room inside Scenic Hills at the Monastery in Ferdinand.
The St. Meinrad couple — who has four kids, 11 grandkids and seven great-grandkids — was married nearly 57 years before Sylvester passed away Jan. 8 of this year.
“He was your only boyfriend and you were his only love,” Marian’s granddaughter, Jeri Braun, says to her grandmother. Jeri works as a certified resident medical assistant at Scenic Hills, and because of that, has gotten to spend much-needed time with her grandmother. Sylvester was at the nursing home, as well, before he died.
“I’m so blessed I’ve been able to take care of them both,” Jeri says.
Marian tears up thinking of her husband.
She keeps multiple items by her bedside that remind her of him, such as his school picture and a rosary a friend gave her after his death.
“Grandpa had a rosary that was special to him that he was buried with,” Jeri says, alluding to the sentimentality of Marian’s rosary, which has been blessed by a priest.
Faith has helped Marian in her grief. She and Sylvester were members of St. Meinrad Catholic Church.
Marian has been at Scenic Hills since August. She had a stroke during the summer, and worked in admissions at Holiday World & Splashin’ Safari up until the day before her stroke.
“I liked it because you met the people and talked to them,” Marian says of her summer job.
She now gets around in a wheelchair.
She’s always been crafty, and enjoyed doing needlepoint and sewing quilts. While she no longer can do those things because of weakness from the stroke, she still spends her time doing other art, such as coloring in adult coloring books.
Faye Kennedy admits she may be a little sentimental. “Or I may just be a hoarder like my grandparents were,” the 75-year-old says, laughing.
She’s proud of everything inside her room at The Timbers of Jasper. The photographs, the knickknacks and even the items in boxes set to go to storage.
She holds up a small, calico dress with lace around the collar and sleeves, and instantly remembers when she brought her daughter, Cynthia McClellan, home after her birth at a hospital in Montpelier. Faye’s aunt made the dress out of feed sacks.
Faye also has the dress she wore home from the hospital in 1944. Someone her mother worked with at the Evansville State Hospital made it.
“They mean a lot to me,” Faye says of the two dresses. She doesn’t see her daughter often, which makes her daughter’s dress even more special.
Faye was an only child and grew up a country kid in and around Birdseye. She ended up having four kids and 10 grandchildren.
She lived in Birdseye much of her life, and says she was always caring for others. She used to care for the elderly, and she cared for her ex-husband for 20 years before he died.
She founded the Bride of Christ Ministries of Dubois County Food Bank in 2001 in a building on her East Taylor Hollow Road property. She ran the food bank until she closed it in summer 2007.
Faye has always liked animals, and recalls having pheasants and a potbelly pig on her Birdseye property. An aerial photo of the property hangs on a wall inside her room at The Timbers.
She also used to fish and hunt; an eight-point set of deer antlers hangs above a doorway.
People know Margaret (Childers) Peregrine likes angels.
“I think they’re beautiful,” the 86-year-old woman says while sitting on her bed inside her room at Scenic Hills at the Monastery in Ferdinand. “You can’t be an angel unless you’re really good.”
Margaret has several angels people have given her over the years. One, a church-shaped snow globe with an angel inside, sits on a wicker shelf near her window.
“She had a whole collection of angels at home,” says Margaret’s daughter, Melody Vaal of Santa Claus. “She’s always collected angels for as long as I can remember. Angels were always really important to her.”
Margaret grew up one of three kids on a farm in Peru, but most recently lived in Shoals. She is a Quaker.
She was an educator for nearly 30 years before retiring from a Florida school district, where she and her late husband, Marion, lived before moving back to Shoals.
Margaret has three kids, and Marion passed away in October 2018.
Margaret remembers Marion as a “sweet, sweet man” who was “very kind and thoughtful.”
She has lived at Scenic Hills since November, when the facility opened at its new location. Before that, she lived at Brookside Village in Jasper for a year and a half.
Margaret struggles with memory issues related to dementia, but she doesn’t let the issues get her down.
“I think I’m pretty sharp for an 86-year-old,” she says. “I feel so vibrant and alive and healthy.”
The Tree of Life
Alan LeMond thrives on creativity. One late January morning, he could be found in his room at The Timbers of Jasper, sitting at a desk and staring at his iMac screen, typing away on his current novel.
But, LeMond, who is from Newburgh, is not only a wordsmith. He’s an artist.
“It’s just part of me,” the 82-year-old says of his artwork. When his sister suggested he display some of his pieces in his room, he loved the idea.
There’s “Lust at First Insight,” “Urban Garden,” “The Battle for Beetle Hill,” “Garfield in Space,” “Man on Fire with a Hot Idea.”
Many of his pieces include what he calls “found art.” He makes them from things he randomly finds.
But then there’s “The Tree of Life.”
“It’s basically all about the story of the Tree of Life, sort of a primitive look,” Alan says. In the painting, which is done mostly in oil paint, the sun is seen shining through the branches of a large tree, which doesn’t have leaves. Beyond the tree and a waterway, two armies are seen fighting.
Alan finished the piece about a year and a half ago, and it’s one of his favorites.
He’s been at The Timbers since last fall, and says he has drawers full of drawings made during his time there.
Alan graduated from Otwell High School, and then studied art and theater in college.
He spent years working in the magazine business, including an editing stint with Marvel Comics, producing the “Nostalgia Illustrated” series, which Alan says “was a lot of fun.”
He got to work a lot with Stan Lee, who is co-creator of characters like Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Thor and X-Men.
“Stan got me in touch with a lot of people who had a lot of knowledge,” Alan adds.
Alan has two adult daughters and four grandkids.
The Herald | Dubois County, Indiana | Saturday, February 29, 2020